2020 – English Revisited

As a subject, English inspires its own controversies; from text choice to the “goals” of English education in a modern curriculum; from use of spell checkers to “whole language” and “phonetic” reading practices. Everyone has an experience to share and an opinion to express.

When I reflect on my own exposure to Language/English during my schooling years, I feel grateful that I was part of the phonetic reading/spelling generation; however, I recall that grammar was definitely “out” … there was no direct teaching of ‘parts of speech’ as a functional tool for improving written expression (though I do recall a class on “collective nouns”). Reading and Writing were privileged and Viewing / Speaking and Listening were inadequately marginalised.

Personally, I didn’t score so well in English Literature at school. As a mature-aged university student, I think my motivation for choosing English Teaching as a vocation, was really developed through my years of “dramatic immersion” – learning, deconstructing, performing and directing scripts. I found the English core units in my university major both enlightening and exciting but still lament that, after four years of university, we were not taught how to use functional skills, nor were we ever expected to study them – even though our mandate was to go into the classrooms of the nation. That still floors me.

I remember buying a book on grammatical rules from the Secondhand Bookshop (which was published in 1954) and studying it so I knew the “languages of language”. It was the hardest unit of study and I still think I should be recognised with a unit credit for that torturous semester break :).

Reflecting on how to harvest the best practice from my own experiences, knowledge and years in the classroom and then project that into what I feel “subject English” should look like in 2020 … I would prioritise the following considerations;

  • Put creativity and imagination back in the centre.
  • Authentic opportunities, projects and engagement in real world/relevant learning!
  • Build bridges – Actively seek opportunity to integrate learning with the other core learning areas; English is the subject MOST able to make authentic links across curriculum.
  • Assess vehicles for operational ownership of the role of functional language (I want to read adverbs and adjectives in student’s writing again!)
  • Embrace the new class of digital-natives – anything to maintain and enhance the culture of reading, writing, speaking, critical viewing and listening practices.
  • Debate, debate, debate.
  • Consent to the marriage of English and vocational preparedness – attend the wedding and pay for the reception.
  • Question whether the role of the English language as the “central, universal language” is outdated… certainly accept that it is a dynamic, evolving language and will be more-so in a globalised, more connected world stage.
  • Love your LOTE and ESL staff – you have no idea how good they are making you look! OR … support your school teaching a second language!
  • Ask students, business and educators what modes of assessment will be best to prepare for a 2020 future.
  • Seek relevant opportunity for the use of exceptional ‘out-sourced’, digitally relevant English tools.
  • Demand a culture of literacy – bribe colleagues with cake.
  • Articulate and affirm the irreplaceable role of the effective 2020 librarian – consider re-birthing the “role” which incorporates easy access to text and digital tools.

But… why wait until 2020?

Learning BUY the Book?

Image representing iPad as depicted in CrunchBase

Image via CrunchBase

As I have already established in earlier posts, we are testing a ‘trial’ year of laptop use for one year group at our school. The parent information evening is this coming week. It has been an exciting time. One of the issues we will be working through will be related to textbook resourcing. Do we encourage outright textbook purchases, e-textbooks, subscription, book hire or etc?

I know that many colleges and schools have already gone through this minefield and I am very interested in the range of responses that are available in e-land. A few years ago we initiated a book hire program to attempt to cut down the cost of text books for parents – in some cases a single textbook choice (especially in our Upper School year groups) could be in the $120 – $150 range. For a low-fee paying school, these are exorbitant text purchases (especially if the student chose to drop the course and move to another mid year!)

If you have seen any of the IPad book applications or really interacted with an e-textbook, they are truly amazing. Double-click a word to access a dictionary/thesaurus on the spot, bookmark, highlight and add a comprehensive note in the margin (some allow colour coding and themed tabs, etc).  There is a WOW factor for the desk bound user (though IPads open a few more learning environments).

This having been said, I suspect that there is still some anxiety about any ‘e-moves’ in this arena. People may be willing to experiment with a book that is chosen for ‘interest’ but there is a sense of ‘risk’ in utilising these alternative text types if a child’s education is standing in the balance. 

Price is a factor too. In general an ‘e-textbook’ will cost about 25-50% of the original price; some are available at a cheaper rate if you agree to a subscription cost, e.g. 180 day subscription. Pearson have launched a comprehensive site at  http://www.coursesmart.com/ . It is well ‘hidden’, perhaps there is some concern about taking business from Pearson book sellers? E-text availability also has a political element with many texts not available in electronic form through the main sellers unless their printing-house has secured an agreement with the ‘reseller’.

Attitudinally, purchasers are sometimes less willing to part with good money for a ‘virtual’ commodity, I know I still struggle with wanting a tangible ‘something’ for my money – I suppose that is why software is sold in BOXES. Perhaps it is just my age but I like the ‘feel’ of a good book, it is more transportable, I can read it places where I may not take a computer, I can read it lying down, the ownership quotient is higher. I have a ‘feel’ for ‘where I read that bit’.  

I will be interested to see how this experiment unfolds at our school and how well some of these changes are received.

You can trial an E-Textbook  of your choice for FREE by visiting   http://www.coursesmart.com/ – you will need to register with a CC. I’m having fun with a free English textbook from the US.